Bonita Farm in Darlington has acquired a young stallion that its owners hope will revive its thoroughbred horse breeding fortunes.
Etched, a 6-year-old son of Forestry, will begin standing at Bonita for the 2012 breeding season, farm stallion manager Billy Boniface said Tuesday. Forestry also sired 2011 Preakness Stakes winner Shackleford.
"This is a big step for us, but I still believe our industry is viable in Maryland," Boniface, whose family owns Bonita Farm, said. "I've been working on this deal for two months."
Etched is a multiple graded stakes winner of $587,586 and a winner in seven of 11 career starts. His victories include the Grade 2 Monmouth Cup and the Grade 2 Meadowlands Cup. He is due to arrive at Bonita from Kentucky on Thursday.
Etched's mother, Unbridled Elaine, was a multiple graded stakes winner in six of 11 career starts and $1,770,740, including the 2001 G1 Breeders' Cup Distaff as a 3-year-old. Boniface said Unbridled Elaine is still being bred.
Etched has a royal pedigree. He's a grandson of top stallions Storm Cat and Unbridled's Song and has Kentucky Derby and other Grade I stakes winners throughout his pedigree, among them Secretariat, Unbridled, Pleasant Colony and Northern Dancer.
Boniface said Etched will stand at Bonita under a partnership with the stallion's owner, Darley Stud, arguably the world's most prestigious breeding and racing operation, which is owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai.
"You have to be creative to succeed in our industry today," Boniface said of his new relationship. "Darley is a first rate outfit, and that should be an advantage for us."
Bonita's principal stallion the past few years, 1994 Kentucky Derby winner Go For Gin, was retired last year and is pensioned at the Kentucky Horse Park. The farm's other stallion is Mojave Moon.
Bonita is also home to the pensioned stallion and 1983 Preakness winner Deputed Testamony, who was co-owned and bred by Bonita and trained by Boniface's father, J. William Boniface.
Three generations of the Boniface family live and work at the farm off Harmony Church Road, where training, stabling and breeding activities aren't what they once were. Billy Boniface said that other than family members, the farm is down to seven employees.
Billy Boniface, who is also president of the Harford County Council, said he will have a lot of work to do lining up mares to breed to Etched, whose initial stud fee will be $3,500 for a live foal. "Anytime you bring in a new horse it's a big investment," he added.
"Things are going to turn around," Boniface said of the state's battered racing and breeding industries. "This is going to be a good opportunity. There are going to be fewer foals two or three years down the road and less competition for the [purse] money that is out there. It's a chance to get ahead of the curve."
Bonita and other Maryland breeders, several which are based in Harford County, have had difficulty attracting clients in recent years because of racing purse competition that favored neighboring states like Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, that have lavishly subsidized racing purses and breeding incentives with slots and other casino gaming revenue.
Maryland was obviously late to the slots party, having just two slots casinos up and running. The casino in Perryville has been operating for just 13 months. The casino outside Ocean City has operated barely 10 months. A third casino is under construction in Anne Arundel County, but casinos planned in Baltimore and western Maryland are stalled.
Boniface said he and other breeders are still willing to invest in the future now that slots revenue is being used to boost racing purses and to help keep live racing in the state. And, he believes Bonita's location close to the emerging Pennsylvania breeding country and Delaware Park still give the farm a leg up in attracting mares to his new stallion.
It will be at least three years before Bonita's faith in its new stallion can begin to produce any tangible results on the racetrack, where the success of a thoroughbred sire is ultimately measured. Etched's first crop of foals won't reach racing age until 2014.
"We're obviously making the commitment," Boniface said. "Don't count us out yet."